Many moons ago when I was a little more svelte and the fast twitch muscles twitched a little bit faster, I ran cross country and track. I was either so good or so bad that I think I tried every event in track at least once. I especially liked distance running. Today long distance means running for thirty minutes straight and trying not to empty my inhaler in the process, but back in high school and college I could run for eight or ten or twelve miles and talk the whole way.
One of the things we talked about, I must confess, is how we might trim the day’s workout just a wee bit. I was of the Malachi school of running—no harm in cutting a few corners (Mal. 1:6-8, 13). I specialized in straight lines through rounded parking lots. Some of my friends, however, adhered to the Martin Luther “sin boldly” theory of shortcuts. One time they chopped a long run almost in half by cutting through a couple of muck fields. It seemed like a good idea at the time: eliminate the middle portion of the route by taking a left at the celery farm. But unfortunately there are two problems with running through muck. One, the muck sticks to your legs, making your shortcut rather obvious. And two, it’s almost impossible to run on muck. In the end, the shortcut proved to quite a long cut and my friends had nothing to show for their crime except for dirty shoes.
It’s true in life, as it’s true in running around muck fields, that the right way to go is also the best way to go. When God gives us commands he means to help us run the race to completion, not to slow us down. In his Reflections on the Psalms, C.S. Lewis pondered how anyone could “delight” in the law of the Lord. Respect, maybe. Assent, perhaps. But how could anyone find the law so exhilarating? And yet, the more he thought about it, the more Lewis came to understand how the Psalmist’s delight made sense. “Their delight in the Law,” Lewis observed, “is a delight in having touched firmness; like the pedestrian’s delight in feeling the hard road beneath his feet after a false short cut has long entangled him in muddy fields.” The law is good because firmness is good. God cares enough to teach his decrees and direct our paths. He reveals his holy character in laying out his holy way. How awful it would be to inhabit this world, have some idea that there is a God, and yet not know what He desires from us. Divine statutes are a gift to us. God gives us law because he loves.